THERE'S A NEW STRAIN OF COVID-19, AND IT'S RAVAGING LONDON
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
There's a new strain of COVID-19 that is spreading panic amongst Londoners. The rapidly spreading variant of SARS-Cov-2 has already caused the cessation of travel out of London and has negatively impacted commerce between England and other European countries like France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy.
The new outbreak is being caused by a strain of SARS-Cov-2 called B.1.1.7, less frequently referred to as VUI-202012/01. This variant appears to be much more aggressive than the original form of the virus, so much so that about 60% of COVID-19 cases in Kent, England, are presently being caused by B.1.1.7. Although the strain took off in December, it appears now that it may have been present in the United Kingdom as early as September 20.
The strain is characterized by multiple mutations—precisely seventeen—more than has ever been encountered in a single strain. Ominously, half of the mutations affect the infamous spike protein that allows the virus to attach to susceptible human cells. Because the sudden appearance of multiple mutations has been observed in other viruses that have chronically infected immunocompromised hosts, researchers believe that a similar situation exists here and are busy searching for an individual who may have harbored the virus for as long as four months.
One mutation in B.1.1.7 known as N501 Y and affecting the area where the virus attaches to human ACE2 receptors causes the virus to be much more effective at binding to susceptible human cells. It also appears that the N501 Y mutation makes the virus much more active in children.
However, it appears the new form of the virus is not more resistant to the recently approved vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer so that the vaccines are equally effective at warding off attacks from all strains of SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, it does not yet appear that B.1.1.7 causes any deadlier forms of COVID-19 in its vicitms. I say "yet" because it is still too early to make any definitive assessments about the virus's lethality.
The United Kingdom strain is not the first to carry the N501 Y mutation. Disconcertingly, in South Africa another rapid outbreak has been identified that appears to be causing a much more severe form of the disease in younger, healthy individuals. Similarly, in Spain, a superspreading event took place with the same mutation dating back to June. That mutation now accounts for about 90% of all new infections, but does not appear to be any deadlier than conventional COVID-19 infections.
So what are the implications of these events to the United States and the rest of the world? As demonstrated in my book Coronalessons, it is apparent that the efforts by the United Kingdom to contain this mutant strain of virus are futile. The probability that travel limitations will limit the spread of a highly contagious virus in circulation since September is astronomically low. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that the B.1.1.7 has mutation has already reached our shores. Fortunately, if other forms of SARS-CoV-2 virus serve as any indication, the variant is likely no more life threatening than prior versions of the virus. Also reassuring, the mutations do not appear to affect the efficacy of the presently deployed vaccines. As a result, our best approach continues to be the continuation of plans implemented by the more conservative jurisdictions within the United States; namely continuing to protect the vulnerable, engaging in reasonable social distancing methods that do not include mandated business closures or lockdowns, and most importantly, that we actively continue to pray for our health and for our country's future.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopedic surgeon living in Florida. He is a lawyer, author, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives. He is available for speaking engagements at email@example.com